Fearsome Flash Floods - Design Solutions - Explain (Session 1)

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SWBAT clearly present their idea for designing a solution to a local weather hazard (flash floods). Audience members will ask thoughtful questions about gaps in the plan to assist the presenter in reflecting on details.

Big Idea

Students are great problem solvers and this activity allows them to showcase that creativity while developing oral language skills.


10 minutes

Today students will finish making their initial plans for a design solution and I will continue to rotate them through groups (at the carpet) where they have a chance to present their ideas to one another and receive constructive feedback.  

I have a range of English proficiency in my class and I have several invisible procedures in place to support both my dual language speakers and my English-only students who can benefit from additional practice with speaking in complete, clear sentences with increased specificity of content.

The presentation and questioning structure below is a perfect vehicle for this kind of language development support because the students themselves are asking one another for more clarity and I can step back on that piece and focus on prompting instead for simple but essential skills such as complete sentences and inserting a question stem into an answer.

So prior to getting back to work on either design development or the presentation cycle,  remind students that when they listen to one another, their role as an engineering team and weather hazard specialists is to:

  • ask for clarification about specific details/components of the plan
  • look for strengths of the plan
  • look for weaknesses in the plan
  • look for unknowns/ areas where the designer needs to obtain additional information, perhaps from specialists
  • recognize that creative teams are constantly revising, and that finding weaknesses in a plan is a way of showing support for one another

(We wouldn't want someone to design a bridge or a skyscraper with design flaws that could endanger lives just because the head engineer/planner hadn't wanted to listen to constructive feedback from her team and make revisions!)

Active Engagement

50 minutes

In this part of the lesson, students are involved in drawing about and discussing their initial idea for their solution to the weather hazard (flash flood).  I give them the freedom to work in a manner of their own choosing. Some of them draw and make diagrams for a major part of the activity period, others write notes and draw, and some write out their ideas in narrative form and almost all of them discuss what they are working on with their classmates as they are thinking it through.  It is easy to keep them on task during this lesson because they are extremely interested in the topic. 

My science and ELA teacher role in this part of the lesson is to:

  • observe students working together
  • prompt them in the use of specific language (“bridge” instead of “thing”, “on the right side” instead of “like, over there”).
  • prompt them to question and answer each other in complete sentences, when appropriate.
  • support positive dialogue and general good manners for discourse.
  • ask probing questions in the event that they are getting off track or need support in generating more ideas. 

My expectations for the students are that they:

  • allow themselves and others to be creative, within the confines of the activity. 

Note: The level of creativity you permit is a very subjective judgment call.  It is teacher and activity specific.  I suggest you do your best to keep students within the realm of what is or might be possible within the relatively close future.  For example, I “allowed” buttons that could inflate to the size of a tiny boat but I didn't  allow helicopter rescues (circumvents the whole design solution process) or flying cars (not going to happen in the year future, even though they are possible).

  • think of several plans and possible strengths, weaknesses, and “unknowns”
  • discuss ideas with one another with respect and an open-mind

They need to be prepared to make an informal presentation of their idea to their peers so that they can be better prepared to write up their plan.

 Here is an example clip from one student's initial presentation:

Here is another student explaining part of his design solution to the problem of sudden flash floods in the desert:

Finally , here is another student explaining her idea and making a connection to the design solution created by a classmate.


5 minutes

This lesson can easily roll into a third day, in a meaningful and productive way.  Regardless of where your students are in their design process, review these steps with them:

  • brainstorm about your design solution to our local weather hazard (flash floods on divided highways)
  • share your drawings, diagrams, or written notes with a team of your classmates
  • respond to feedback and add more specific details; acknowledge weaknesses and specify areas where you will need to do further research or call in an expert  
  • incorporate all of this into written text (probably equivalent to two paragraphs - they always want to know the number of paragraphs) which explains how your design solutions addresses the problem created by the weather hazard
  • prepare your final drawing, diagram, and written text into a presentation form of your choice:
  • posterboard, powerpoint, Google Docs and drawings to be projected, 3d model